Bald Eagle

From my backyard, I watched a bald eagle soaring above Puget Sound. The bigger a bird is, the smaller it looks from the ground. The crows around here look like big shots. They wing low over rooftops looking for roadkill and garbage. A hawk is bigger, but it soars higher. To the eye, it looks smaller than a crow. But then the crows, canny enough to recognize hawks as bad news, dive bomb the hawk. When the birds are next to each other, you can see that the hawks are actually bigger. The bald eagle, bigger still, was soaring so high that it looked tiny. I looked up at it, and I felt patriotic.

The bald eagle isn't just a symbol, it's a sign. It doesn't just arbitrarily stand for the nation, it indicates an important victory. Thirty-five years ago, our air was dirty and our waterways were polluted. DDT, used to kill pests, had entered the food chain and ruined bald eagles' eggs. They were dying out.

In a great liberal victory, we passed environmental laws, and the laws worked. The air is cleaner now than it was then. Pollution controls have worked.

It was easy to be pessimistic thirty years ago. Increased population had strained the environment, and the population was going nowhere but up. It was easy to imagine a future in which the natural environment would inevitably degrade. See movies such as Silent Running and Logan's Run.

But environmental laws didn't just slow the degradation of the environment. They actually made the environment cleaner and healthier. The bald eagle soaring within plain view of Seattle was not just a symbol of the nation's natural heritage but an indicator of success in our struggle against our own shortsightedness.

July 2004